The US army selects MIT for $50 million superhuman exoskeleton project.
March 14, 2002 2:12 PM   Subscribe

The US army selects MIT for $50 million superhuman exoskeleton project. Includes nanomaterials, invisibility, superhuman strength, protection from ballistics, and a built in kit for autonomous treatment. Will this be the soldier of the future?
posted by Aikido (37 comments total)
Stephen Hawking has beat them to it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:15 PM on March 14, 2002

Next step : robot soldiers ?
"Press A for war".
posted by XiBe at 2:22 PM on March 14, 2002

That drawing looks decidedly feminine. Are women going to be the supersoldiers of the future?
posted by starvingartist at 2:25 PM on March 14, 2002

> Are women going to be the supersoldiers of the future?

Bubblegum Crisis. Yum.
posted by jfuller at 2:30 PM on March 14, 2002

XiBe, check out this. Robots seem to be the future as well...
posted by Aikido at 2:30 PM on March 14, 2002

But, what if it falls into the wrong hands?!
posted by fuq at 2:33 PM on March 14, 2002

But, what if it falls into the wrong hands?!

I'm sure there will be an abundance of suits so that won't be a problem. The same has gone for most military technology (excluding nukes among other things).

Besides, I don't really see one of these suits standing up to a missile whether from a stinger or F16.
posted by Aikido at 2:42 PM on March 14, 2002

Any responsible suit designer would build in biometric identification on the suit, so it would only work for the assigned wearer. At least, that's what I think. See, however, the 'smartguns' that can only be fired by the owner. Never took off, unfortunately.
posted by daver at 2:52 PM on March 14, 2002

We keep developing new technologies for ground troops, while simultaneously moving more of our military action to the air. The reasoning is obvious; there more American casualties in a ground war, which is bad press. Of course everyone says that 21st century warfare will be urban, and therefore ground-based, so we're going to have to get our hands dirty eventually.

But are we going to wait until our boys are surrounded with indestructible exoskeletons before sending them into battle against malnourished 14-year olds with 20-year old rifles?

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with minimizing American casualties, I just want to know if this is the truth. And if it is, do we hold onto our very outdated, romanticised image of "the soldier"? The image we get from movies, I mean, which of course is unrealistic anyway, but not as far from reality as it will be once we replace the traditional infantry with RoboCop.

I guess the conflict I am facing stems from the fact that on the one hand, war isn't a game, and there's no reason to give the other guy a break, but on the other hand, this just seems eerily clinical, arbitrary, and inhuman.
posted by Hildago at 2:55 PM on March 14, 2002

this reminds me of the uk cyber-soldier of the future (tm) project, which (unusually) was featured in a tv documentary about the designer.
it was perplexing/interesting to see how his ideas were twisted by the brass for their self agrandisment. he pointed out that if the enemy wanted to cause the most damage, they simply had to pick out the guy in the 'big suit'. they said - we don't agree.
in this case there was no 'power steering' so the unlucky soldier given the privilege of being the 'cyber-soldier' was unable to keep up with the rest of the unit, due to the weight of the outfit. the gps compass overlay failed and left him running in circles.
the designer said 'back to the drawing board'.
the military brass said 'successful trial', invest double in improving this design.
the designer said 'i can't be involved in this folly'. he left the development team.
also reminds me of greg egan's future soldier ideas (in 'distress'). kind of a metal arachnid with remote control which can be assumed by any level of personnel, depending on the nature of the mission.
one question might be - what advantage (cost-wise) does this have over a normal platoon?
posted by asok at 2:58 PM on March 14, 2002

Did Dubba-ya come up with this idea? I mean please, they fail to mention (or draw in their cute little anime picture) anything about a) infrared/heat/sonar goggles b) gps mapping and satellite communication c)a fuel cell or other power source to run all of this hokey shit that they want or d) how's one to relieve him or herself without taking off their "nanotechnology" suit?

This article is just full of a bunch of outdated, shitty buzz-words, and incorporates none of the technology that is already readily available to us on the consumer market like teflon, night vision goggles (you know you can get SUVs with night vision windshields now?), etc. I'm sure there are a few elite navy seals that get that stuff, but for the rest of you poor bastards in the military, don't hold your breath... It'll be the same way if they develop anything new. A few elite guys (that probably get there through political ties) will get all these cool toys and get to go on fun "secret raids," while the rest of the poor fucks in our military get shot at wearing nothing but the cheapest shit we could scrap together after buying a few thousand blackbirds and stealth bombers, or, better yet, giving away our gear to terrorists so that they can do our dirty work, who, after realizing that our political leaders are assholes, end up using it against our poor average footsoldiers (pushed into battle by the same said assholes.)

So yeah, yuck it up, MIT. I'm sure your little "future soldier gear" bullshit will really save the day.

Pardon my foul language, I just can't believe anyone's getting paid anything for that...stuff.
posted by zekinskia at 3:10 PM on March 14, 2002

Nowhere near as cool as the Guyver units - mega smasher, yay..

Cybernetics is the future..

Or is it genetics?

Or is it cyberbiogenitics?

Who knows?
posted by Mossy at 3:18 PM on March 14, 2002

i think they need to get in touch with troy james hurtubise :) check out the specs on the URSUS MARK VII!
posted by kliuless at 3:22 PM on March 14, 2002

Chameleon Clothing.
Human Spontaneous Invisibility.
(It's worked for women for years.)
posted by sheauga at 3:26 PM on March 14, 2002

Lok on the bright side. With all this money coming to MIT, Noam Chomsky can get a nice raise to go around badmouthing the country to one and all.
posted by Postroad at 3:31 PM on March 14, 2002

Well, we've durn well gotta drive the defense budget up somehow!

People must realize that you can't fight a perfect war. (& what would it show of your civilization if you could?) I can't believe the hysterics that accompany a death of one of Our Boys in th' Middle East. The purpose of war is not the survival of the soldiers. I hope this was inadvertently published two weeks early....
posted by EngineBeak at 3:37 PM on March 14, 2002

Does it have repulsor rays?
posted by noisemartyr at 3:39 PM on March 14, 2002

Operation Urban Warrior -- the "invasion of Oakland" -- was intended to test certain urban-warfare tactics and technologies. Some of them worked, others didn't. Palmtop information devices, for instance, provided secure communications -- but the idea of a battlefield wireless network didn't work out too well, because the devices spent most of their time trying to retrain communications.

In Afghanistan, for instance, these types of secure devices were used by the special forces troops in targeting precision bombing attacks; and I've seen little Aliens-style helmet-cams on several soldiers. Note that air attacks may be more important than ever, but for full effect they require a handful of highly-equipped, highly-trained soldiers right there on the ground. It's a matter of interaction between units: the idea isn't necessarily that every soldier will turn into some kind of bristling techno-Borg, but that communications and positioning and detection technology will combine to permit close integration of different types of warfare units in ways never before possible. It's what's called the Revolution in Military Affairs.

In any case, it's important to realize that projects like this are pure R&D experiments. Nobody knows if they'll work until they're tried; and it's important to try a lot of different, small, interlocking things to find out what is worth carrying forward.
posted by dhartung at 3:42 PM on March 14, 2002

posted by mr_roboto at 5:15 PM on March 14, 2002

Wow, MIT sure will be able to put together a lot of great hacks for $50 million!
posted by kindall at 5:19 PM on March 14, 2002

I wish new technology development would be driven by something other than our desire to wage war like its never been waged before. This stuff goes to far. Now every nation is going to have to get these, and then you have an arms race, and then you've got to use them, and then you have a war.

Great day for our country indeed.
posted by xammerboy at 5:26 PM on March 14, 2002

I can't wait until these suits are ready for use in pro sports. We'd have to invent a new game for them, some kind of pseudo-rugby/ lasertag/ kung-fu thing.

It's gonna RAWK!
posted by Ty Webb at 5:30 PM on March 14, 2002

On another note, can you imagine a battalion of these busting up a riot or demonstration? For a generation raised on Star Wars stormtroopers, it would cause us to poop our pants immediately.
posted by Ty Webb at 5:33 PM on March 14, 2002

Deploying French Intellectuals might be cheaper.
posted by sheauga at 5:38 PM on March 14, 2002

Does it have repulsor rays?

Nice one, noisemartyr. It damn well better.
posted by Ty Webb at 5:52 PM on March 14, 2002

OK, it's cool, but is it needed? Couldn't the $50M have been used on something better?
posted by cx at 6:01 PM on March 14, 2002

Ok, just pop one of these onto someone who has a mutated body that has an amazing ability to heal itself, add a little adamantium.....
posted by Salmonberry at 6:08 PM on March 14, 2002

OK, it's cool, but is it needed? Couldn't the $50M have been used on something better?

Battlemechs! (I want a WarhammerIIC myself.)
posted by Wulfgar! at 6:17 PM on March 14, 2002

How long until they can wear their motorcycles? (I want one)
posted by joemaller at 6:18 PM on March 14, 2002

i was thinking invid or, from the battletech perspective, clan elementals.
posted by kliuless at 6:31 PM on March 14, 2002

Hildago made a good point back there, which has gotten buried in lots of "ooh, wow" sci-fi comments:

But are we going to wait until our boys are surrounded with indestructible exoskeletons before sending them into battle against malnourished 14-year olds with 20-year old rifles?

That certainly seems to be the goal, doesn't it? And I wonder what will become of us then, when war becomes so consequence-less (from our point of view.) Will we be that much more likely to send in the troops, when we know the only people that are going to be killed are going to be the other guys?

Come to think of it, aren't we kind of there already? It seems like I've heard as many reports of US troops dying due to accidents as to combat, in Afganistan... I know that's skewed, since the media is likely to under-report losses and over-report enemy casualties during a period of encouraged patriotism, but still we've managed to take over an entire country with only a handful of losses. Here we go: in the first 3 months of war, the US lost a total of fourteen soldiers, twelve of them to friendly fire or accidents. In just the first two months, the Afganis lost 10,000 or so (not inluding 3,000ish civilians.) I can't vouch for the credibility of these numbers, as I haven't done an exhaustive search, but even if they're both off by a thousand percent, we're still putting on a pretty convincing show of invincibility.

We'd have had more deaths if our army had just been trying to cross Fourth Avenue at rush hour.

So, sure, let's do the research and let's develop the technologies, if only so the rest of us can get some of the spin-off benefits of all that science. (Nanotech teflon, here we come.) But I sure wish we had a more trust-inspiring government than our own in control of all that tech.
posted by ook at 7:25 PM on March 14, 2002

I think their running a scam on the government so they can get paid to sit around and play Halo all day.

Where can I apply?
posted by ArkIlloid at 7:42 PM on March 14, 2002

I think these future suits aren't really going to be used for the so called military objectives abound. Considering the cost it would be to make one of these suits, I seriously doubt that more than 100 troops would get these things if even that many.

Secondly, I'm sure there's a way to stop these suits. True, the majority of current military targets have no way of really stopping them, but they can still be stopped.

Lastly, we'll all be dead before they make one of these suits, at least with all of the bonuses in their description. I'd like to see body armor that can heal major bone fractures, yeah right.

I think the biggest issue to think about when discussing this, what happens when these suits are available, are we going to make believe there are enemies to fight? Who would be able to stop the US from World domination if these were put into mass production(100 of them couldn't handle the job)

Halo... yum.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 10:23 PM on March 14, 2002

Sorry, mr_roboto, they won't be building an Eva with that money. What was the price tag again? USD $1 Trillion each?

Overall, I think this sort of technology development is beneficial. There are promising applications for space and underwater exploration (not to mention benefits for other dangerous work, like mine clearing, bomb disposal, firefighting, etc).
posted by Kikkoman at 5:41 AM on March 15, 2002

An article i read on the exo suits had quotes from a general basically saying that they just want powered legs, so women soldiers can carry stuff and be usefull.

Thats probably why it looks like a woman in the pictuure
posted by Iax at 6:52 PM on March 16, 2002

As far as Hildago and Jake's comments go...

Does anyone ever bother to wonder how many lives (enemy and innocent) are saved by U.S. military technology? I mean, a lot of Afghan civillians have been killed by bombs, and I don't mean to trivialize that, but had there been a full-scale invasion (i.e., Normandy), I would think that a lot more lives would have been lost on both sides. Same for the persian gulf war. Excepting perhaps nuclear weapons, technology has generally allowed wars to be fought by fewer soldiers with fewer casualties.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 3:16 PM on March 17, 2002

Hegemony by overwhelming military superiority? Yelling At Nothing, that's actually a really interesting point, and I have a feeling I'm going to lose some sleep over it. Thanks a lot.

Here's a hypothetical, though. Take it back to the Gulf war, just to give us all some 20/20 hindsight. What if the US hadn't had such a dramatic technologic advantage? Say we were only slightly ahead -- muskets v. cavalry charge, instead of stealth bombers v. SCUDs. Would we still have invaded, knowing we would lose, say, half as many people as the enemy would, instead of just a handful? Would it have been better all around if we hadn't invaded, but had been forced to seek a (perhaps unsatisfactory) diplomatic solution?

Possibly. I don't know. Nobody knows. Nobody can know.

I, personally, don't think a Normandy-style invasion of Kuwait or of Afghanistan would ever have happened: the democratic will wouldn't have been strong enough in either case, if a large number of US lives were at stake. (How many years did it take the US to get involved in WWII? Four? Five?) So we'd have been forced to use nonmilitary methods to combat, well, whatever it is we were fighting against.

My concern is that it's far too easy for the US to go to war these days: there's little or no incentive to seek peaceful solutions. We lose 10 guys, the enemy loses 10,000, and the president's support rises by 60% in the polls because it's patriotic time. Nobody loses except the "enemy", and who cares about them, anyway?

Sometimes war is the only solution. And when that's the case, then yes, it's best if it's over as quickly as possible, and the only way to guarantee that is to give one side absolute military superiority.

But war shouldn't ever be the easy way out: it should always, always be the last resort. Saving lives by going to war is like saving money by going to the white sale: sure, you could've spent a lot more for what you got, but maybe you didn't really need all those sheets to begin with?
posted by ook at 10:10 PM on March 18, 2002

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